COVID-19 and Natural Health
COVID-19 and Natural Methods to Support the Immune System
An important place to start is to make it clear that there are no supplements or herbs that are, at this time, known to prevent or treat COVID-19, and there’s no definitive current evidence that boosting your immune system will prevent COVID-19, or reduce the severity of your illness if you become infected. However, there is some evidence that people with compromised immune systems are more vulnerable to COVID-19 and generally a strong immune system is a good starting point for fighting any virus.
At Organic Herbal Remedies we believe that supplements and botanical remedies have an important role to play in immune support. There are also many herbs with a history of traditional use for improving immunity and physical resilience. The following recommendations do have varying levels of evidence for prevention of the common cold, flu and other respiratory infections and are generally safe for most individuals to take.
Herbal Remedies and COVID-19
Echinacea is an herb traditionally recommended for the prevention and treatment of viruses such as the common cold and flu. Numerous studies, including a Cochrane Database Review, found that echinacea provides consistently positive results, but not necessarily at clinically significant levels. Herbalists contend that inconsistent or less significant study results are due to the use of lower quality products, inadequate dosing, or both. Because echinacea is safe for most people and does show some benefit for upper respiratory infection prevention, and prevention of recurrent infection, we recommend it for colds and flu. While there is no evidence yet for any herbs or supplements helping with COVID-19, it appears safe and reasonable to include Echinacea for supporting the immune system.
Due to very rare allergic reactions, the UK MHRA suggest that children under 12 should avoid echinacea although many herbalists disagree with that recommendation. It should also be avoided by those with chronic systemic autoimmune conditions such as lupus, those with autoimmune conditions who have previously tried it and experienced a symptom flare, and those on immunosuppressive medications.
This lesser known herb in the west is one of the most important herbs in Traditional Chinese Medicine suggested for background protection and immune support. Traditionally astragalus is not used when you have a fever but for protection before you get one. At the time of writing, there is a global shortage of organic astragalus and it is often out of stock in health food stores.
A double blind RCT study in Norway found that Elderberry was an “efficient treatment” for influenza. Further research indicates elderberry can improve the functioning of the mucous membranes to help clear catarrh from ear nose and throat. It can also help reduce fever, headache, muscle ache, cough, mucus discharge and nasal congestion. It stimulates the immune system, is anti-viral and anti-inflammatory and is recommended both to lower the risk of infection and to reduce the length of an infection.
Black Seed Oil
Black seed oil (Nigella sativa) is a powerful immune system booster. A 2015 review in the Journal of Functional Foods found that it suppresses inflammatory mediators and shows immunomodulatory activity in respiratory disorders – it also helps to prevent respiratory disorders.
Garlic has traditionally been used to prevent and treat respiratory infection, however, it is more specific to bacterial infections than viral infections. We do recommend that you include plenty of garlic in your diet
Green Tea: Some recent studies have found that drinking hot green tea can reduce the likelihood of upper respiratory infections (eg this one in the Journal of Nutrition showing Japanese children that drank green tea were less likely to get the flu) and green tea is packed with other health benefits too. So, if you enjoy green tea, a couple of cups a day can be lovely way to support upper respiratory health.
Nutrients and COVID-19
Zinc plays an important role in immunity, helping the body to fight invading bacteria and viruses, and may help the lining of the respiratory passages to prevent viral replication and inflammation.
It is best to take your zinc supplement with a meal. Zinc supplements can interfere with the absorption of certain medications including quinolone or tetracycline antibiotics. Discontinue zinc supplements if antibiotics are required for the treatment of COVID-19 complications or another infection. It may also interfere with diuretics and medication used to treat Rheumatoid Arthritis – so check with your doctor if you’re taking either before supplementing with zinc.
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that has an important effect, not only on bone health but also, on immune function and the ability to fight infections. A 2017 meta-analysis in the British Medical Journal, found that vitamin D supplementation was safe and it protected against acute respiratory tract infection overall. Individuals who were very vitamin D deficient experienced the most benefit from taking it. With many people experiencing reduced access to sunlight while staying at home, Public Health England (PHE) has reissued its recommendation for vitamin D supplementation, advising that we should all consider taking a 10 microgram vitamin D supplement throughout spring and summer while the lockdown continues, because we may not be getting enough vitamin D from sun exposure. (PHE’s advice on vitamin D is not specifically about preventing coronavirus but for maintaining muscle and bone health).
We recommend Viridian Organic Vitamin D. For best absorption, try taking it with a meal that also contains healthy fats, like eggs, fish or avocado, though it can be taken any time. Food sources of Vitamin D include fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel, and cheese, while egg yolks provide small amounts.
Vitamin C is generally recommended by both alternative and conventional health practitioners for cold and flu prevention, There are a number of studies demonstrating that it can help fight different pathogens and supports the health of the respiratory passages. A 2013 Cochrane Library meta-analysis, based on 29 trial comparisons involving 11,306 participants, indicated the following:
- Vitamin C appears to lead to a 50% reduction in the likelihood of catching a cold in athletes who “perform regular or acute bouts of intense exercise” compared to athletes who don’t take Vitamin C.
- The duration of colds may be reduced by about 8% in adults who regularly take vitamin C supplements and those colds may also be less severe.
Citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruits are important sources of Vitamin C, as are red and green peppers, kiwifruit, broccoli and strawberries. Herbs high in Vitamin C include Acerola, Rosehip, Elderberry and Thyme
A small number of studies, including one published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, suggest that this practice has some benefit for preventing upper respiratory tract infections. There is no evidence to suggest that a commercial alcohol-free mouthwash is any more effective than salt water or just plain water
Staying Safe with a Natural Approach
The above herbs and supplements may help but the most important ways to prevent the chances of catching and spreading COVID-19 are to follow the guidelines provided by the UK government:
- Wash Your Hands thoroughly for the full 20 seconds and always wash your hands before leaving your home and when you return
- Avoid Touching Your Mouth, Nose, and Eyes, particularly when you are away from your home
- Avoid Exposure if Possible – Stay at home if you can. Social distancing is important. If you can’t self-isolate then the two-metre guideline for self distancing is useful.
Natural medicine isn’t all about the supplements; a healthy lifestyle is actually the foundation for immune health. Eat a nutritionally rich diet with plenty of fresh vegetables plus fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes (such as chickpeas and lentils), fish, and eggs.
Sleep also plays an important role in immune health, and lack of adequate sleep can make us more susceptible to colds, the flu and other viral infections. Poor sleep over extended periods of time can impair immune response more generally, It is recommended that you get no less than 7 and no more than 9 hours per night of good rest.
And if you do feel ill call 111 or your GP for advice and guidance. Stay safe and stay healthy!